Worthy Christian News » Christian Persecution » Christian Persecution - Asia » Laskar Jihad Disbands?
October 16, 2002
Indonesia -- Laskar Jihad, the extremist Islamic group responsible for much of the violence in Central Sulawesi and the Malukus, has announced that it is disbanding.
In a surprise announcement, a lawyer representing Laskar Jihad said that the organisation was shutting down its headquarters and offices and would be withdrawing its warriors from Central Sulawesi and the Malukus. Up to 1,000 Laskar Jihad fighters have already left Ambon on a ferry bound for Jakarta. This decision will certainly be welcomed by Christians in the region, especially if it results in an end to the violence and attacks on Christians that have continued despite the peace agreements signed at the beginning of 2002.
A variety of reasons have been suggested for this decision but all the proposed explanations raise as many questions as they answer. Laskar Jihad's lawyer, Wirawan Adnan, insisted that the decision was an internal one taken prior to the bomb attack in Bali, but the coincidence of timing seems too great to ignore. Another suggestion is that the closure followed a fatwa (legal judgement) issued by a Muslim cleric in Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Rubi ibn Hadi. This stated that the holy war was over in the Malukus. However, Laskar Jihad has portrayed itself as fighting to maintain the unity of the country against alleged Christian separatists. So it would seem strange if they are now responding to a fatwa from Saudi Arabia unless they regarded themselves as Islamic warriors fighting a holy war against Christians. Many commentators are pointing to the strong links between Laskar Jihad and elements of the Indonesian military. In the very different environment following the bombing in Bali, these elements may have decided to break their links with groups such as Laskar Jihad in the knowledge that any such links would now come under the closest scrutiny from Western powers. Christians in Central Sulawesi and the Malukus have long complained that the Indonesian authorities have been unwilling or unable to stop the attacks by Laskar Jihad. It would be outrageous if elements within the Indonesian military have now been able to bring about the disbanding of Laskar Jihad just because the wider political environment has changed.
An interesting dimension to all this has been the reporting of the disbanding in the Western media. Previously, the conflict in Central Sulawesi and the Malukus has largely been portrayed as an ethnic clash between extremists on both sides. Now, perhaps as a result of the Bali terror attack, the presentation may be beginning to change. A BBC report describes Laskar Jihad as one of Indonesia's most hardline Islamic groups that "has been fighting a holy war against the Christian community in the Moluccan Islands and central Sulawesi." The Guardian described Laskar Jihad as "Indonesia's most violent radical Islamist group, which is blamed for the deaths of thousands of Christians in eastern islands during four years of communal conflict." This belated recognition of the true nature of the conflict is to be welcomed.
Barnabas Fund has been one of the few voices that have long sought to publicise the crucially significant Islamic extremist dimension of the conflict. They have been heavily criticised for this by various western journalists. In 2000 Barnabas Fund's Indonesia petition, signed by nearly 50,000 people from over thirty different countries, called for peace in the Malukus. In 2001 Barnabas Fund distributed a booklet and organised a major letter writing campaign that highlighted the genocide of a Christian minority in Central Sulawesi and the Malukus. It does seem that the death of almost 200 westerners in the bomb attack in Bali has alerted the world to the activities of Islamic extremist groups in Indonesia to a greater extent than the killing of over 10,000 Indonesian Christians in Central Sulawesi and the Malukus.
If, as is hoped, this marks an end to the attacks on Christians in the region, it will be a tremendous answer to the prayers of many Christians throughout the world. However, the possibility remains that the Islamic extremists may re-emerge under a different name or in a different guise, so only time will tell if the disbanding of Laskar Jihad truly marks the end of the conflict in Central Sulawesi and the Malukus.
Whatever happens, the ongoing needs of the Christians who have suffered so much in recent years, must not be forgotten. As well as the tens of thousands who have been killed, hundreds of thousands have fled their homes. There is the need for re-housing and rebuilding on a massive scale. Many Christians have been traumatised by their experiences and need much help and support. Although many Christians who were forcibly converted to Islam during the conflict were subsequently released, the question remains as to whether they will have the freedom to practise their Christian faith and be allowed to live in peace. Finally, it remains to be seen if the Indonesian authorities will be prepared to take decisive action against extremist Islamic groups and to protect Christians throughout Indonesia. Will, for example, Christians in Aceh be able to worship freely? Seventeen churches there have been closed in recent months and Christians are under great pressure to conform to Shari'ah (Islamic law) regulations in this strongly Islamic province.
Praise God for the disbanding of Laskar Jihad. Pray that it will lead to a real peace in Central Sulawesi and the Malukus.
Pray that the authorities in Indonesia will protect Christians and allow them to worship in freedom.
Pray that Christians in Central Sulawesi and the Malukus will be able to rebuild their lives in peace and security and that the resources will be provided to help them.
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